SHEEP producers will be able to benchmark their meat and wool production through new ewe productivity trials developed by Agriculture WA. The benchmarking program commenced with successful wether trials, which have beocme increasingly popular in recent years and now involve about 200 growers in 15 trials from Esperance to Mingenew. Agwest geneticist Bronwyn Clarke said the wether trials were showing variations in performance between different bloodlines but only concentrated on wool production traits. "With up to 40 per cent of income from Merinos derived from lambs and surplus animals, another benchmark trial was needed," Dr Clarke said. She said the ewe productivity trials, a joint activity of the agency's meat and wool programs, already had two sites available at Broomehill and Darkan. "We have eight staff located at Three Springs, Gingin, Merredin, Darkan, Esperance and Katanning available to support producers involved in these trials." Darkan farmers and performance breeders Bruce and Jenine Taylor are among the first WA producers to participate in the productivity trials. "We think this is an excellent opportunity to assess ewe fertility. We need to look at more than wool production, as in the wether trials < lambing is also important," Mrs Taylor said. Katanning-based researcher Johan Greeff will co-ordinate the ewe trials, which will be similar to wether trials, but use ewe weaners instead of wethers. Teams of 30 to 50 ewes would be run together for the first year and evaluated for wool production before being mated to the same rams and evaluated for lamb and wool production in the second year. The new productivity trials would be open to all ewe breeds, providing an avenue to compare all breeds, bloodlines and crosses under common conditions. The trials could also be linked to allow benchmarking on a statewide basis. Dr Clarke said, in the wether trials, results from linked trials had shown up to 6 microns' difference in fibre diameter and 1.5kg clean fleece weight between teams. "These differences show that many of our woolgrowers have the opportunity to improve the performance of their flocks," Dr Clarke said. "It also indicates that flocks with superior performance may be found within WA. These differences have been calculated as being worth up to $60,000 annual whole farm profit." Any groups interested in participating, should contact Dr Greeff at GSARI, 9821 1755.